President Obama thanked Arne Duncan, the departing Education Secretary, during a short ceremony in the White House State Dining Room on Friday marking the end of Duncan’s term.
Obama said Duncan has done, “more to bring our education system, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the 21st century than anybody else.”
“He has a record I truly believe no other education secretary can match,” he said.
Obama called Duncan a genuine guy, something even his detractors in Congress and at teachers unions would agree with. Republican Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate education committee said in a statement that he’s enjoyed working with the Secretary, despite their disagreements.
“When we disagree, it is usually because he believes the path to effective teaching, higher standards, and real accountability is through Washington, DC, and I believe it should be in the hands of states, communities, parents and classroom teachers,” Alexander said.
Duncan is leaving the Department of Education after 7 years at the helm. He was one of the longest serving cabinet members in the Obama administration and one of two rollovers from Obama’s first term. Duncan said in a letter to staff members that he hasn’t yet decided what’s next for him, but he’s looking forward to going back to Chicago and being with his family.
“I’m simply returning to Chicago to live with my family. I imagine my next steps will continue to involve the work of expanding opportunity for children, but I have no idea what that will look like yet,” Duncan wrote.
He got visibly emotional on Friday, thanking the President and noting the influence his parents’ careers as educators had on his professional life. “All our life we saw what children could do when they were given a chance,” Duncan said.
Obama also introduced the new interim Secretary John King Jr., who he said has a family that’s “equally cool and good looking.” King shared his personal history, which he has also detailed in a Huffington Post op-ed. As a youngster, he said, education offered him a second chance at life.
“Education can be the difference between life and death. I know that’s true because it’s true for me,” said King.
At a lighter moment at the event, Obama said he’d miss having Duncan, who he proudly noted holds record for most points scored in an NBA celebrity all star game, on his team for pickup basketball games.
“He’s my favorite partner in pickup basketball,” Obama said despite the fact that he’s “very slow and he has no hops.”
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